Rigden, L E 'Les'
Posted: Thursday 04th June 2020
Les Rigden built and restored classic lightweights from his ‘workshop’ above a shop in Upper Gardner Street close to an historic area of Brighton known as the lanes and close to the station. Entrance was through a small green door with a 49d crank as a handle, up some rickety wooden stairs with a rope for a hand rail and a bell under one of them to warn Les of your presence.
Once upstairs the whole workshop was full of interesting items as well as frames and bikes Les was always busy but still had time for a chat, his work was faultless and to a very high standard.He had been a member of Camberley wheelers when he was younger and was friends with Frank Colden, BAR winner in 1962. In early life Les had been a printer but his love of bikes won him over and he decided on a career shift in 1973. Initially he specialised in restoring classic frames to a very high standard and soon earned a reputation for high quality work which was worth waiting for as these things couldn’t be rushed in his eyes.
After some eight to nine years restoring and selling bikes he got the framebuilding itch and started to create a small number of very personalised frames for customers. He created some very intricate lugs, cut his own headbadges and would engrave the owners name on the topeyes. He also produced a short-wheelbase frame (see image below) with Hellenic seat stays and the seat tube canted forward at the bottom to join the down tube several centimeters in front of the bottom bracket.
He then added a further tube from the bottom bracket to the seat tube some half-way up to triangulate thus stiffening the bottom bracket area. This build entailed some acute mitreing but allowed the rear wheel to sit nearly up to the BB shell. The machine shown below was obviously built for a woman, a very short rider or a youngster as it looks to be about 19″. As set up it looks as if it is to be used for a hill climb event with the stubby hood on the right side of the bars. It is built with extra long track ends which were a hallmark of some Rigden frames when Les cut dropouts of some two inches (5cm) to allow ample adjustment to cater for sprocket and chainwheel changes.
The owner of the beautiful Les Rigden shown below is Monika Boldrin who lives in Austria, her family came from Padova Italy. It is ridden in the area she lives in Austria, Switzerland, Liechenstein, Germany, and in as many Italian vintage events such as Giro d’Italia d’Epoca, etc. as she can manage.
She has taken the liberty of equipping it for her mountainous terrain and chose the paint scheme which is dazzling without eye protection. The frame was almost destroyed by a previous owner who ran out of funds for restoration and then set about doing it himself. The frame is not 100% original, carrier bosses etc had been removed. It has been professionally repaired in Italy, where it was also re-chromed and painted. She had informed a Dutch friend, after he had remarked on the colour scheme, that “blue wheels would be nice. About 2 weeks later these N.O.S. Rigida rims arrived from Holland.
I did a search for Les and was pleased to see your account. As far as I can see your information is 100% accurate. Les was a personal friend of mine and I worked with him on some restorations. I trained as an artist in Brighton. In some instances it was not possible to find copies of the old transfers at the trade fairs. In such cases I was asked to line them by hand. The first one was a Record Ace (sorry no photo of that one lovely job). The lugs you show, he usually did the lining himself. Coach lining on such a small scale was a challenge but we shared a love of the craft we were trying to recreate. I do have a couple of slides but nothing much to show. As favor in return we painted my bike (not a lightweight steel) in a Harlequin pattern of my design. Base sky blue, gold scales, with a flam purple from the front and flam magenta on the back stays. (I currently reside in Japan and have yet to ship my current frame an oversize orbit 531 he picked out for me).
As for the butting Les sometimes had some advice on things tubular from a gunsmith, I only ever knew him as Bill (he was based in Preston Park). Again both men had an eye for the exact. Yes he liked to cut his own lugs and silver solder to produce beautiful frames. I learnt a lot from him and he was a great craftsman he was very exacting and a perfectionist in his work. It is with great joy that I recall these details.
Details of Richard Bailey’s Rigden trike from Chris Hutchinson. Rigden built several trikes for ‘racing men’ and Chris Bailey has two of them. He is going to submit a piece on Rigdeb from the tricyclists point of view.